I've been on the train from Chicago for around seven hours now. This is my first stint on a real Amtrak long-distance route - the Eastern routes, from the Atlantic to Chicago and similar, are not as long as the Western routes, running to the Pacific and the Gulf. The dining car is for all passengers now, not just for those in sleeping cars, and the stops are fewer and farther between.
We arrived in St. Louis around 7:45, pulling in over the Mississippi and rumbling over an iron-girder bridge, alongside a freight train laden with ethanol, oil, liquefied petroleum gas, the foodstuffs of an industrial economy moving slowly in a line tens of cars long, crossing the Mississippi for points East. I manage to secure a shot or two of the Gateway Arch, cursing trees and billboards, alongside a woman who, upon her first passage through St. Louis, driving over the bridges of the city decades ago, missed it entirely. She got a picture of the arch as well.
The train filled up in St. Louis, with my precious double seat, all to myself, becoming shared with a man headed South to Dallas, home, to see his friends and family that he does not have in St. Louis. The seats in the row behind me, occupied by a mother and her children (camped out in the Sightseer Lounge), were nearly taken by new arrivals five times.
Rush hour on the Texas Eagle.
The night has fallen, and as we work our way South the train rumbles, the whistle blows, and rain streaks on the windows, barely visible against the darkness. The lights of industrial compounds and electrical switchyards fly past the tall windows of the Sightseer Lounge, the name becoming ironic in the night - the car, brightly lit on the inside, enables us more to be seen than to do the seeing, reflections on the windows a more reliable focal point than the features outside the windows, the odd light here, a track signal there, the glimmer of a distant streetlamp through rain-slicked foliage.
There's a camaraderie on the train. Most people seem to get along, united by common cause, if not common voyages. A queer sort of pilgrimage, without shared destination or origin, with only the route and mode of transport to tie people together. The mother with her young children is offered sympathy and good humor when the young'uns get rowdy, and oranges are shared between fellow-travelers. Everyone laughs sardonically at the same announcements of delays and cafe car closures, which will end as soon as the attendant is done with his dinner. We are all in the same boat, if not all in the same car.
If all goes according to plan (a risky proposition with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation), I will arrive in Austin, Texas at approximately 1845 tomorrow, to visit W.W., W.R., and K.M. I will stay until Monday the 13th, when I will board the Texas Eagle continuing to Los Angeles - a particularly long train, for which the bullet has been bitten, by me, to upgrade to a sleeping car. A new experience.